As a writer in grad school, I really struggled with voice, trying to write poems that would stand out as MY poems. My thesis advisor would tell me how important it was for my poems to hang together as a cohesive group, with a voice to unify them; he said he wanted my poems to have a voice so strong that if someone dropped a pile of unattributed poems on his desk, he could pick mine out of the stack. At the time, I was 23. I had no idea really who I was as a poet, and was just beginning to figure out who I might be as a person, so when my advisor talked about voice it was hard really to understand what he meant. I didn’t have as much confidence as my classmates did, and that came through in the poems. In the years since then, I’ve made a lot of progress with developing my voice. The poems I’m writing now (or was writing, before teacher training started) have a much stronger voice, a voice that was influenced by many writers I admire but which is still definitively mine.
This teacher training weekend made me think about my voice as a yoga teacher. I don’t mean my speaking voice (although that’s important too), but who I am and what’s important to me as a teacher. I’ve been practicing yoga for over eight years, and I’ve taken classes with a lot of different yoga instructors, all of whom teach differently. The core poses are all the same, but every teacher is going to phrase things differently, is going to emphasize something different. My favorite teachers all live in my head somewhere: Gene in Boston, my friend Lucia, Jennifer Schelter, Adam and Lisie at Enso, now J & N, even the woman who taught my very first yoga class back in North Carolina. When I practice yoga, and even more when I try to teach a pose, I have their words in my mind to draw upon, but it does no good for me to just regurgitate another teacher’s class. That’s not helpful for me, and it’d be dead boring for the students. What I need to do is to synthesize the different voices I hear in my mind and add my own perspective – make my yoga my own. It doesn’t sound all that difficult, but practicing teaching this weekend, it was incredibly difficult! My classmates and I could all hear J’s voice in our mouths as we taught. Each of us needs to develop our own unique voice.
How? The only way to do it is practice, practice, practice. I need to dive deeper into my own yoga practice, not just doing poses but paying attention to each pose, noticing the little things I do to get my alignment right and figuring out how to tell those little things to someone else, how to describe those things in my own way. And I need to practice teaching. The same way I had to practice writing poetry to find my voice as a poet, or the same way that a student in a public speaking class needs to practice before giving a speech, I need to practice giving yoga instructions, practice hearing my voice in this new way, practice paying attention to what the students are doing and finding ways to guide and correct them. I’ll get a lot of this practice through the teacher training program, but still, I think F’s going to be getting a lot of yoga lectures for a while. This issue of voice is something I’d never really considered before, but it’s critically important to explore if I’m going to follow this path.